ANCIENT IMAGES by Ramsey Campbell


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Except for The Hungry Moon (1986), Campbell's horror novels (most recently, The Influence, 1987) haven't matched his short stories for their psychological insights or stylish ferocity. And so it is with his newest--a rambling, often predictable tale of a hunt for a suppressed horror film that generates notable thrills only near its end. Moreover, Campbell uses a horror device here--periodic, bloody land-fertility rites carried on in an isolated town--that's been used with more force by others, most notably by Tom Tryon in Harvest Home. Tryon didn't shade his novel with pointed comment about urban decay, though, which is Campbell's initial thrust as he depicts heroine Sandy Allen, a young London film editor, berating a gay-basher in a bar and, a bit later, sniffing at some splatter films on TV. But there's some ingenious early plotting to go along with this crude moral posturing: Sandy's best pal, Graham, has finally dug up a print of a legendary, never-released 1930's Karloff/Lugosi British film, Tower of Fear: before he can screen it for her, he inexplicably leaps off the roof of his ten-floor apartment building--and the print is stolen. Determined to rescue Graham's good name from a columnist who claims the print never existed, Sandy--after starting up a romance that adds bursts of graphic sex to the otherwise chaste narrative--sets out to find the film. Motoring throughout England, interviewing men who worked on the film, stalked by something (a dog? a scarecrow?), she hones in on the weird town of Redfield--home to a native bread that, like opium, breeds will-less contentment, and home to bloodthirsty entities whose secret was, it turns out, hinted at in the film and who make a savage appearance in the novel's gory, exciting, but too-neat last pages. Finally, genuine suspense and scares--but not enough to make up for the belabored buildup, an uneasy blend of showoff film erudition, social commentary, and obvious horror. Far from Campbell's best.

ISBN: 684-19081-8
Publisher: Scribner
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